Over the last couple of days, I spent a few hours listening to submissions heard by a Regional Council hearings panel on the proposed Napier BTF sewage treatment plant.

The bottomline … if Napier gets its consent, as it surely will, the ratepayers of Napier will get a $32 million (or so) ‘pretend’ sewage plant that re-packages their poop into ‘biomass’ (placating concerns of some, not all, Maori) and dumps all of it into the Bay. This, according to HBRC’s consultants, actually achieves very little in terms of environmental clean-up.

In fact, it poses un-studied environmental risks, given that no evidence has been presented regarding how the biomass might actually behave in the Bay. And it raises potential health concerns that have the DHB alarmed (since the biomass will actually contain more bacteria than the untreated sewage Napier now dumps in the sea). As one HBRC consultant notes, the domestic discharge predicted by NCC would not achieve the 2015 standards set by the existing the consent conditions (which NCC’s current proposal deletes). In other words, Napier will be moving backwards.

Despite that, Napier’s entire case rests on the claim that the new plant won’t be any worse than the present non-treatment! Now that’s a stunning reason for spending over $30 million. [And of course, Hastings ratepayers are doing exactly the same thing, having built the same kind of BTF plant.] In recommending approval of the consent, HBRC takes the timid position that — since no one really knows whether the system will work so as to not damage the Bay — the consent should be reviewed ten years into its 25-year term. HBRC calls that a ‘precautionary’ approach!

However, says one HBRC consultant: “The BTF process does not provide a significant benefit to the receiving environment, when considering the actual improvements in discharged wastewater quality as measured by standard quality parameters. Further, the BTF process does not provide a significant social benefit … Hence the economic justification for the BTF process becomes questionable when considering the capital expense for the plant and the performance achieved.”

As we asked in an earlier post … why bother? Here’s the answer.

Years ago, when Napier consulted with its ratepayers on how much improvement of wastewater treatment they wanted, the public answered very clearly … we want substantial improvement, including primary and secondary treatment, and we’re prepared to pay for it. And Napier officials began to head down the path the public wanted.

But when in 2005 Barbara Arnott saw the Regional Council permit Hastings to build a cheaper BTF option that wouldn’t need to meet tough clean-up standards, but would satisfy Maori cultural concerns — and with no public consultation required on the matter — she choked. And began the process of thwarting the express will of Napier residents.

Here’s how Hawke’s Bay Today described the situation on March 28, 2005:

Mrs Arnott said Maori, along with other Napier people, had demanded high environmental standards when the city council went for its resource consent for advanced primary treatment.

“Why should there be such a difference in Ngati Kahungunu across the ditch?”

Napier’s new plant had been designed to remove 99.9 percent of human waste from the stream. That treatment would be undermined if the hastings Council went ahead with a system that pumped human waste into Hawke’s Bay …

“If this is the system Hastings is going to run with and Maori condone that then I will be asking them if they have any objection to us pulling our consent and lowering our standards as well.”

That lowering of standards is NOT what the Napier public wanted, but it is precisely what the Napier City Council has proposed, after years of bumbling, in the consent application heard these past few days.

Not only does the consent application propose nothing-burger clean-up today, worse still, it contains no provision for up-grading sewage treatment in the future.

So much for respecting the will of the Napier public. And so much for the health of the waters of Hawke’s Bay.

Nothing but a race to the bottom between Hastings and Napier … set in motion six years ago by an inept Regional Council.

Tom Belford

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